Our focus in education for quite awhile now has been on literacy in reading. It was a need, a need that we have and continue to address. So before I begin this monologue, please hear me say we need to support reading. It’s important.
So is math! A student also needs to be literate and fluent with math. Yet we don’t support math like we do reading. We don’t provide interventions for math like we do reading. We pass students to the next grade even though they are not proficient in the skills and competencies for the grade they are leaving. They can read so they pass.
We are harming students. It’s negligence on our part as educators. What happens to a student who doesn’t master their multiplication tables in the 3rd grade? They struggle with long division in 4th, but they pass. That lack of success (because we don’t want to say failure) compounds year after year, making a student believe they are stupid, that math is hard, that they can’t learn math. But at that point in their education it’s ok if they can’t learn math, they haven’t had to so far. They can pass to the next grade and the next and be grossly deficient in math skills. Then they arrive at high school, where grades matter and courses must be passed to graduate. This is how they come to me.
The expectation when they arrive in my classroom is for them to learn Algebra 1. Seems simple enough. Our curriculum is good, it’s aligned to our state standards, it’s vertically aligned with other grade levels. Oh, but students haven’t had to learn this wonderfully aligned curriculum. They passed from grade to grade because they could read. Here is the task we’ve actually been given.
We are supposed to bring students out of a learning hole that is 3 or 4 years deep and help them climb the tree to learn Algebra IN ONE YEAR. They haven’t had to learn math for a long time and now they have to learn multiple years of math to be successful. I use data and standards based learning. I can show that my students are making progress. Sometimes I only take them to the top hole and we sit in the grass. Yes, that means they don’t pass Algebra 1 the first time, but they learned.
So the argument I’m getting is, if they’ve learned why don’t they pass? My answer: because they didn’t learn Algebra 1. We never made it to the tree, we only sat in the grass and we celebrated that success. If we pass these students, we are as negligent as those before use. We are perpetuating the problem. If they pass to Geometry and Algebra II, they will be right back down in the hole we were trying to pull them out of.
People keep asking me what the solution is and I keep giving it. WE NEED MATH RTI IN ELEMENTARY AND MIDDLE SCHOOL. We need to make sure these students get the support they need to be successful EVERY YEAR, not wait until Algebra I and hope I arrange a miracle that drags them from the bottom of the pit to the top of the tree with the snap of my fingers.
Help our students, support our students, show them they CAN learn math from the beginning. I want them to be successful too but you are sending me an impossible task and setting our students up for FAILURE, and not the kind you can learn from.
I’m climbing off my soap box for now, but even from the ground I will continue to advocate for RTI in math. It’s time our focus is on literacy in more than just reading.